By Peter O’Dwyer
Lambs to the slaughter they may not be but Monaghan go into today’s All-Ireland quarter-final against Dublin in full knowledge of the disembowelment the reigning champions have handed out to all who have gone before this year.
Malachy O’Rourke’s charges are better equipped to challenge Dublin than any of those sides but remain rank outsiders against what is fast becoming one of the finest sides we’ve seen play the game in quite some time.
Against the Farney County, Dublin are likely to find the going much tougher and will almost certainly have to contend with a proper challenge from their opponents into the final ten minutes but for all that it remains difficult to see them beaten.
There are two schools of thought as to how a team goes about beating the Dubs. The first is to set up as Monaghan do and try to contain the Dublin attack while picking off enough scores at the other end to win an attritional type game in which the champions are effectively strangled. The other is to engage them in a shoot-out and hope to sink the good ship Dublin before your own vessel is submerged.
Many will argue the model espoused by Donegal and adopted by Monaghan is the better of the two, but for this writer’s money Kerry, even in their eventual failure, showed the best path towards success.
If that theory holds any water, Monaghan will struggle to do any better than doggedly keep the game competitive, maybe give Dublin a scare but ultimately be overrun by the glittering array of talent at Jim Gavin’s disposal.
In Paul Mannion’s exclusion this week, Monaghan can find little solace as Eoghan O’Gara – fresh from pilfering 1-1 from the bench the last day – comes in to fill take his place.
It’s a microcosm of what this Dublin panel is all about with players of supreme talent sitting on the bench every game as others of equal ability start in their place. Even if Dublin are beaten after 50 minutes, there’s always Dublin Mark II to call on to save the day.
The other change to the Dublin team sees a little experimentation from Gavin with Na Fianna’s Jonny Cooper taking his place at centre-back as opposed to his more regular corner-back berth.
Missing out as a result is the superb Jack McCaffrey with Nicky Devereux shifting over one to left wing-back.
In the likes of Conor McManus, Drew Wylie, Darren Hughes and others, Monaghan have fantastic players in their own right whose talents can cause endless headaches for teams, at both ends of the pitch. Coupled with a savage workrate, hunger and a fair bit of physicality to boot, O’Rourke’s men are a fine side.
It’ll take all 15 to have the game of their lives to beat Dublin however, and that’s just the champions starting selection. How you beat the entire panel remains to be seen.
Dublin: Stephen Cluxton; Michael Fitzsimons, Rory O'Carroll, Philly McMahon; James McCarthy, Jonny Cooper, Nicky Devereux; Michael Darragh Macauley, Cian O'Sullivan; Paul Flynn, Kevin McManamon, Diarmuid Connolly; Alan Brogan, Eoghan O'Gara, Bernard Brogan.
Monaghan: Rory Beggan; Conor Boyle, Drew Wylie, Colin Walshe; Dessie Mone, Vinny Corey, Fintan Kelly; Dick Clerkin, Darren Hughes; Paudie McKenna, Paul Finlay, Kieran Hughes; Thomas Kerr, Christopher McGuinness, Conor McManus.